The Problem With Time Tracking
Time is money
Despite the “time is money” adage, most of us don’t stop and take time to assess how we have used every hour, minute, and even second of our workday. That’s because tracking our time is a challenge given the fact that none of us work in a singular way.
Time Tracking for Billing, Productivity, and Compliance
Due’s time tracking tool was designed to provide you with a way to accurately gauge how long it takes you to complete your project work for clients as well as assess how others on your team are using their time and ensure compliance with labor laws.
Founded in 2015, Due focuses on a complete payments solution that includes time tracking, online invoicing, digital wallet and credit card processing. This comprehensive payments platform is designed to assist freelancers and small business owners. We have added other tools and features designed to account for all time and money associated with your business to maximize the value you get out of both revenue and non-revenue generating tasks. By raising your productivity, we can help you increase your profitability and enhance your ability to take on more to realize further revenue opportunities.
Our time tracker tool provides exceptional benefits for your business:
- Calculate how long each project takes for clients, which helps provide the most accurate and transparent bill while also providing a way to offer estimates that are not over or underestimated. This builds trust with your customers and
prospects while ensuring you are charging appropriately for your time.
- Speed invoice creation with available data collected in the time tracker tool rather than taking additional time to compile the necessary data.
- Determine the productivity and accuracy of time usage by any staff for accurate and transparent timecards and to ensure labor law compliance.
- Reduce any human errors or mistakes that were common when using manual time tracking processes.
- Deliver analytics about how time is spent to pinpoint any potential areas in need of improvement due to inefficient
processes or lack of productivity.
Numerous Features Add to Benefit of Time Tracking Tool
As a component of Due’s powerful online invoicing platform and digital wallet, the time tracking tool offers numerous features that add numerous benefits to your business
Offline and online payment service
Gift card processing
Reports and analytics
Offline and online payment service
Gift card processing
Reports and analytics
Offline and online payment service
Gift card processing
Maximize the Benefits of Credit Card Processing
Reach and engage a wider target audience
The majority of consumers and businesses expect to use their debit cards or credit cards as payment methods. If you don’t accept these in your business, then you are missing opportunities for more revenue because these potential customers or clients will go elsewhere. By adding online credit card processing to your payment methods, you will be more likely to add business and close more leads than just accepting cash and checks. This is especially important if the majority of your transactions are online or you are a freelancer that works in a virtual environment.
Get paid faster
Research has shown that invoices get paid up to 11 days faster when you accept credit cards. Customers and clients want to get the task of paying an invoice over with as quickly as possible because they have more important things to do. By using their credit card, they can finish in minutes rather than taking much longer to write a check, fill out an envelope, and mail it. The faster you get paid, the more cash you have available for your business needs.
The Ultimate Guide to the
Table of Contents
Introduction — What Is Time Tracking, Where Did It Come From And Why Do You Need It?
The most valuable asset that a company possesses is the one that every business owns in equal amounts. Whether the firm is a multinational with hundreds of thousands of employees or a single proprietorship consisting of one person, a laptop and an up-to-date version of Photoshop, both businesses have 24 hours in a day. Each member of staff will have eight to ten hours each day that they must convert into profit.
The owner’s and their employees’ ability to convert those seconds and minutes into cents and dollars will depend entirely on what they do in that time.
Clearly, some work is more valuable than others. Jonny Ive’s ability to dream up new designs and figure out how to incorporate unique features into Apple’s products in innovative ways, turns his time at the office into millions of dollars every year for his employer.
A teenager whose job is to ask customers if they want “fries with that” might be able to turn an hour into little more than ten bucks. (Not knocking this work. All hard work and effort is honorable.)
Knowledge is valuable, and the abilities that someone can bring to an hour of work will determine how much revenue the company can generate, and how much they can earn during that time.
But there’s another factor that helps to weave time into money: efficiency. The better use someone makes of their work hours, the more they can squeeze out of each hour.
The goal for companies, for employees, and for freelancers should always be to work at their most efficient, to make better use of the time they have at the workplace and to maximize the money their efforts generate in the time they have available.
That need for efficiency isn’t new. At the start of the twentieth century, Frederick Winslow Taylor pioneered the use of scientific management. He watched how workers made iron pigs at steel mills, inspected bearing balls, and shoveled iron ore onto railroad cars. After counting their productivity, he recommended changes that he believed would enable them to work faster and better.
Taylor watched what people did in the hours they were at work. Time clocks that measure how long employees are at work date back to the 1890s.
New York jeweler Willard Le Grand Bundy patented a mechanical time recorder that automatically noted when employees arrived at work and when they left.
Those time clocks were intended to help bookkeepers and employers calculate the amounts of money they needed to have on hand in order to pay employees who earned an hourly rate, but later they would have another effect, too.
The time clock began to identified employees who arrived late and allowed businesses to spot staff who tried to leave early. The clocks at that time didn’t improve the efficiency of the staff during their time at the workplace; a shop assistant kept at work by the loss of wages if they clock out early might still have been leaning on a counter with nothing to do in an empty showroom. But the time cards would have made sure that the business was at least getting the full attendance it was buying for the weekly wage.
Today’s time-tracking software and the evolution of Taylor’s scientific management mean that companies, employees and freelancers can now do a lot more than improve workflows, record the amount of time spent in the workplace, and make sure that workers stay at their desks. They can actually measure productivity. They show what someone manages to get done each hour they’re at work.
Time-tracking software has come a long way since Willard Le Grand Bundy figured out an automatic way to stamp time on paper cards. Time-tracking has become much more sophisticated too, than the thumb scanners that stand near staff entrances today.
Time-trackers can reveal what someone is actually doing while they’re at the workplace. The time-tracking software that we provide at Due provides a long list of features that go far beyond simply tracking time—and most importantly they don’t just bring benefits to businesses and business owners.
Time-tracking also benefits staff, who can earn the rewards they deserve for the hard work that they do. And tracking time can help freelancers, who can work more productively and charge clients a fair rate for the efforts they make on their behalf.
Due’s time-tracking software tells businesses and freelancers how long they really worked on a project for a client. Tracking provides an easy and accurate way to create accurate and transparent bills, and they generate estimates that reflect the true amount of work involved. Clients always know exactly what they’re paying for, and small businesses and freelancers are always paid the right amount for the time they worked.
Combining the time tracker software with invoicing software makes creating invoices as simple as clicking a button. There’s no more need to note hours, add them up and paste them into a bill (often with mistakes and omissions.) Time tracker software makes that process both automatic and accurate.
Of course, time tracker software shows the productivity and use of time, delivering analytics that can improve processes and raise productivity. For businesses, staff and freelancers that means a more efficient use of time, and higher incomes.
In this guide, we’re going to look at how time trackers work. We’ll explore the different ways in which time can be measured in the workplace and we’ll look at what those differences mean for the businesses that use time tracking software.
We’ll then explore how to introduce time tracking software. No employee likes to feel that their boss is looking over their shoulder, and even freelancers can be reluctant to use anything that records all their micro-breaks and Facebook time.
Staff, though, will be happy to use time tracker software… provided a good argument has been made for their use. We’ll look closely at those arguments and explain how to present them so that time-tracking comes to be seen as a tool that benefits everyone and not just the company.
And finally, time tracking software delivers valuable data. It shows what people really do when they’re sitting at their desks and turning time into money. In the last chapter, we’ll explain what you can do with that data to squeeze more dollars and cents out of every minute and second of your workday.
7 Ways To Measure Time
The earliest time clocks were simple devices. As noted before, they recorded when an employee arrived and when they left. That made them useful for managers who wanted make sure that employees arrived on time and didn’t leave early.
These clocks were also welcomed by bookkeepers who could calculate easily how many hours an employee worked. But in-and-out times aren’t the only moments that a business can measure.
There are seven ways that a business can record employee time with time-tracking software.
In this chapter, we’re going to look at each of those seven ways and explain what they mean for your firm.
This is the simplest—and oldest—form of time-tracking. It records the time an employee arrives at work and when they leave. The earliest time clocks only required an employee to insert a thick, paper card into a slot. A contact at the back of the slot then printed a time stamp onto the card. By making sure that the entry and exit areas were properly aligned, the card was able to record the amount of time the employee spent at the store or in the office.
Some early versions of time clocks look more like medieval torture devices than clocks with slots.
Before IBM made servers, the firm used to make a machine with a large dial marked with numbers from one to 100. Each number represented an employee, and workers would line up their number then pull a lever. The clock would print the day, time and number on a roll of paper inside the machine.
Today’s time clocks are a bit smarter. Customers might only need to wave a plastic card near a machine to record the time, and that recording would be in a format that allows the bookkeeper to import it directly into accounting software. The journey from the company clock to the company books has never been shorter.
Despite the advance in technology, those clocks still measure the same thing. They still only count the days and the hours in which someone is present in the workplace. They don’t record what a person is doing when they’re at the workplace.
Time clocks can be a solution for bookkeepers but for managers looking for greater efficiencies or freelancers hoping to raise their productivity, the clocks have little to offer.
They’ve also long been open to fraud. Anyone who has ever worked in a place with a mechanical time clock will have seen staff asking each other to clock them out so that they can leave early. According to one statistic, such time theft costs businesses an average of $1,100 per employee per year.
New machines that require fingerprint scanning instead of card-punching can help to reduce such fraud but time clocks still remain the most basic way to track time.
Durational Time Tracking
One of the benefits of time clocks is that the recording is always made automatically. Staff might be able ask their friends to clock them out but they never have to estimate the number of hours they’ve worked.
Durational time tracking doesn’t record the entire amount of time someone spends at their workplace. Instead, it focuses on the amount of time someone spends working on a particular project. Usually, the worker has to keep track of their hours themselves then enter the number of hours manually.
Durational time tracking is mostly used by freelancers or by service companies that need to bill multiple clients. They allow both to easily bill different clients for the hours spent on their projects, and only for that time.
Although durational time tracking has its uses, it’s often inaccurate. Staff often have to estimate the amount of time they spent on a project, giving them an opportunity round up to increase the amount they can charge and sometimes to round down to show an employer or client that they can work faster than their competitors.
In practice, it’s probably the most common way that freelancers estimate how much to charge clients. The flexibility of durational time tracking ensures that workers don’t feel that someone is looking over their shoulder and it lets them work slowly, knowing that they can always write in an hour or two less if they feel they’ve taken more time over a project than they should have done.
Employees and freelancers using durational time-tracking to record the number of hours that they spent on a project. Chronological time-tracking requires them to enter the start and end times for a task.
In effect, the two forms of time-tracking are fairly similar. Both document the time spent on a particular project rather than at a workplace, and they share similar weaknesses. As long as the worker or freelancer is trying to retroactively recall when they started or ended a task, there will always be some degree of inaccuracy and the possibility of manually altering the figures.
Chronological time-tracking does give the company a little more information however, and in the process, limits the worker.
Freelancers, for example, who prefer to burn the midnight oil, and may even do their best work at that time of day, might not want to indicate that they worked on a client’s project in the wee morning hours. Instead, they may wish that they could indicate their hours worked were during regular office hours, and chronological time-tracking does not allow that.
Chronological time-tracking can also be tedious if the project isn’t completed in a single sitting. Instead of calculating the total amount of time spent on the task, staff and freelancers have to enter the details of each session they spent on it. This requires more bureaucracy than is strictly necessary to calculate an invoice and each entry opens a new opportunity for mistakes.
Exception-based time-tracking may well be the simplest way for a bookkeeper to record the time staff spend in the office. Instead of recording time at work, the company assumes that staff are at work during their set work hours unless otherwise stated.
This has been a method that works well for salaried positions or tasks that staff members do every day and for the same amount of time.
For bookkeepers, the method makes the accounting simple. Staff don’t have to complete time sheets which the payroll department then has to chase down, and there are fewer chances of making mistakes.
But exception-based time-tracking is more a tool for the accountants than for managers or freelancers. It provides no information about productivity or the speed with which tasks are completed.
Location-Based Time Tracking
Time-tracking reveals how long someone spends completing a particular task, whether that task is designing a logo or staying in a store. It measures the duration of an action.
Location-based time-tracking measures the amount of time someone, usually an employee, spends at a particular place.
At most small companies, that information is of little value. Most businesses will assume that their staff will be in the office but location-based time-tracking might be useful for consultancy businesses whose staff have to visit clients on-site and those whose employees have to cover large areas.
Amazon, for example, is known to equip its warehouse staff with GPS systems to make sure that they don’t waste time as they pick products off its enormous shelves.
This is a form of management science that has come in for strong criticism in the media.
For freelancers, location-based time-tracking can help to calculate where they’re most productive.
Freelancers often divide their time between home offices, cafes and co-working spaces. As they travel between those places, they also shop, line up at the bank, and visit medical clinics.
Location-based time-trackers let them see how long they spend at each of those places and how much time they waste at those locations.
You can think of location-based time tracking as a way to streamline a day, to minimize time lost lining up at the Whole Foods next to the co-working space or passing through the farmer’s market on the way back from the café.
Many employers feel that this is unlikely to contribute much to an attempt to raise productivity, however, for many freelancers wondering where their time went — this may be just the thing.
Monitoring is the most intrusive form of time-tracking. While it might record the amount of time a worker spends completing a task, it also records the time employees spend idle. Some software even takes screenshots captured at random moments preventing workers from taking micro-breaks to check Facebook or answer a chat message (bathroom anyone?). For staff, the impression is always that the boss is watching — always watching — their every move and doesn’t trust them to get the job done.
Monitoring is most popular for low-level tasks conducted at a distance and that pays small fees to people doing repetitive tasks at their desk. Businesses who use this type of software are likely to struggle to find high quality staff who are willing to have their every move watched, and freelancers will find no value in seeing random screenshots taken through their day.
Automatic time-tracking is probably the most effective way manage time and work. The software is usually very simple to operate: workers often have to do no more than click a Start button to begin tracking the time they’re about to take on a task.
When they finish, they hit Stop, and the software calculates the amount of time they’ve spent on the job. The employee or the freelancer can give each task a name, allowing them to see exactly how long each job took to complete.
For businesses, it’s an easy way to see which tasks (and which members of staff) are making the most of the time they have available.
Freelancers can enjoy the same benefit. If they find that one particular kind of task (logo design, for example) is actually taking them much longer than they anticipated, they can start to make decisions that will improve their income. They can cut that particular task from their list of services, increase the price or just try to put their head down and learn to churn them out faster.
In theory and in practice, the mere awareness of time passing often begins to happen to a persons internal clock. Also, just being aware that a clock is recording the amount of time that you’re spending on a task can have the effect of increasing concentration.
Knowing that you’ll run up the clock if you stop to check Twitter or glance at your email will keep you focused on the job.
The tracking can even become something of a contest, a chance to beat your current best time by getting the best work done at the highest possible speed. This may not be something you want to do every day, but shows just how quickly and efficiently you can work when you really try.
Later, you can turn on the time-tracking software again to see how far you’ve fallen behind and motivate yourself to put your foot down again.
So, automated time-tracking software lets both employers and freelancers see exactly how long a job takes and how much value that time delivers. The fact that that data can also be imported into accounting software also makes the time-tracking time-saving.
Company bookkeepers can prepare their paperwork faster, and freelancers, for whom bookkeeping is non-revenue generating work that eats up hours every month, can waste less time counting the right amounts to charge different clients.
So time-tracking comes in a range of different forms to suit different businesses and to achieve different goals. For most businesses and freelancers however, automatic time-tracking is the best option to create the data and the motivation to work faster and more efficiently.
While freelancers are free to use time-tracking at any time, for business owners, rolling out time-tracking to employees who are used to working at their own pace can be difficult.
In the next chapter, we’ll explain how to do this tracking without creating problems… and how to create enthusiasm among staff for measuring their own productivity.
How To Roll Out Time Tracking
Mining companies go to extraordinary lengths to protect their most valuable assets: the gold and diamonds that they’ve paid millions of dollars for the right to extract.
Mines in South Africa, for example use thermal cameras, video analytics, iris, fingerprint and facial recognition, infra-red beams, motion sensors and thermal cameras to make sure that poorly paid miners aren’t smuggling out precious stones from their workplace.
Other businesses might not need to trust their staff with small nuggets worth thousands of dollars, but they do trust them with a different asset that’s often worth even more than gold and diamonds.
They give them direct access to their time.
A company’s success will always depend on their ability to turn that time into revenue in exactly the same way that a mining firm’s success depends on its ability to turn digging and drilling into piles of gold and precious stones.
Few businesses keep a close watch on the asset of time. The company might set deadlines and review overall performance, but they don’t all count the minutes or track all their hours.
If a member of staff lingers over their work, breaks off to write a few Facebook posts or spends too long shooting the breeze around the watercooler, that stolen time isn’t recovered, nor recoverable.
According to one study, untracked time could cost the U.S. economy as much as $7.4 billion every day in lost productivity.
A small professional services firm employing fifteen people could add as much as $1.4 million to its revenues each year, says the survey, if it could identify and claim back those lost hours.
For freelancers that wasted time is money that’s leaking out of their pockets. There are few freelancers who haven’t been told by salaried friends that if they were to work for themselves, they’d spend the day reading the Internet and watching the television.
Freelancers know that what makes them knuckle down isn’t a superhuman work ethic. It’s the awareness that if they don’t work, they don’t earn. Freelancers have to be disciplined.
This does not meant that being disciplined isn’t a battle. Coffee shops are filled with loud music and chatting diners. Home offices might have only a door between the desk and screaming children. Relatives assume that if you don’t have a boss, you’re available to run errands.
Part of the benefits of being a freelancer is that you are available to run errands and go to coffee shops and be home when the kids come back from school.
A 2016 survey by freelance site Upwork found that full-time freelancers work on average 36 hours a week. Although that’s less than eight hours a day, more than half are happy with the amount of work they have. They build routines and keep an idea of how many billable hours they produce each day.
Time tracking breaks those routines. Suddenly the freelancer isn’t just up against the client’s deadline. He’s also up against the clock on the time-tracking software. Even though a freelancer doesn’t have to persuade any staff that tracking productivity is good for them, turning the software on can still be a difficult decision to make. Freelancers often become freelancers to be free — from what they picture as big brother.
One way to overcome that reluctance is to commit to use time-tracking for a short period: a week or at least a day. During that period, the freelancer and employer or client can collect data and identify tasks that are taking time but not earning revenue at all, or that are taking too much time for the revenue generated. Generally a freelancer will use that data to change their routine slightly, and then track the results again.
Once you find that you’re productive enough in the time you have available, you can lay the time-tracking software aside. When you feel that productivity is falling again, you can turn it back on to see where you’re dropping behind, and decide how you can increase your output again.
The time-tracking software becomes not just a clock, but a vital productivity tool that a freelancer can turn to at any time to check their own personal discipline. The freelancer will still be free to slip-away from the keyboard any time that they want, but they’ll know what timeframes break their concentration (which will result in a lower paycheck for them).
The time-tracking software will also reveal to the freelancer themselves, which are the best moments for them to take a break, and which times they will want to work without interruptions.
For employees though, those hours aren’t lost or stolen at all. They might be taken from the company that employs them but they’re used to help them relax, socialize with their workmates and get through a day at the office. For people on a salary, the freedom to step away from the desk or the counter is a valued perk, and they won’t be too happy about handing that perk back to the company.
Time-tracking for them might be a productivity tool but it’s a tool that takes away something that they value and gives it back to their boss.
So when you’re introducing time-tracking to your company employees, you have to do it carefully. You don’t want your time-tracking to produce a grumpy workforce that feels untrusted and micro-managed. Nor do you want the time-tracking to be conducted carelessly. You have to bring time-tracking into your workflow in a way that doesn’t harm morale, that will give you accurate timesheets and will actually make people want to list their hours and time their productivity.
It’s a three-step process:
Clarify The Benefits
The first step is to make clear why you’re forcing your staff to use time-tracking — and that the reason isn’t to clamp down on coffee breaks. It’s often to make the accountancy simpler and more accurate.
When you know exactly how long a member of staff has needed to spend on a particular project, you know exactly how much to charge the client. The time-tracking isn’t to restrict the staff’s freedom. It’s a necessary work tool that the company needs to serve its customers.
This may be the most common reason for using time-tracking software but it’s not the only reason and it’s not relevant to every business.
Not all businesses provide services to clients, and sometimes the only reason for time-tracking will be to improve productivity. That’s a good enough reason to use it, but it has to be sold carefully to your people. When you tell employees that you want to raise productivity, what they hear is that you want to bring more money into your business at the cost of the some of their workplace freedoms.
This doesn’t have to be the case. When Frederick Winslow Taylor conducted those early studies into the how manual laborers worked, one of his recommendations wasn’t that they should work faster but that they should take more breaks. Physical labor is tiring and Taylor found that the shovellers who rested regularly came back stronger and were able to get more done.
When you’re using time-tracking to improve productivity, that should be part of your pitch. You don’t just want to know who’s slacking. You want data that can help your team to work more efficiently, to take the breaks they need and not waste their time on tasks that aren’t productive.
Time-tracking will help you to see exactly how long the team is losing in meetings or on paperwork, and they’ll help the team to focus on the work that they enjoy the most and that brings in the most revenue.
Sell the time-tracking as a tool that will help you to remove the dull and low-paying stuff from your team’s workload and they’ll understand that it’s something that can help them rather than seeing it as a chore that will only help the company.
Share The Benefits
Time-tracking might not actually increase your revenues by nearly $100,000 per team member but it should bring your business more money. It will also show you which members of your team are getting the most done… and which are doing the least.
That’s information you need to handle carefully.
The easiest response is to praise those who are working most efficiently and give them bonuses, while possibly giving a stern talk to the slackers or even replacing them. But employee motivation is complex. Employees don’t only work for money. They also want to enjoy a sense of responsibility and to feel that they’re making a difference.
Similarly, employees who aren’t pulling as much weight as others might respond better to closer mentoring than to a threatening talk in the manager’s office.
You’ll have to decide what actions will most motivate your staff but they should be able to see that the time-tracking is doing more than improving your bottom line. They should also see that it is enhancing the work that they do.
Your employees should also feel that their hard work is recognized and acknowledged—and they should know that the best tool that they have to prove how well they’re working is to track their hours. It’s the most effective way to ensure that your staff use their time-tracking software, and use it accurately.
Make It Easy
When the goal of tracking time is to make your business more efficient, it can’t impose a burden on your staff that makes them less efficient. If they have to lose minutes at the end of each task writing down the amount of time they spent on a phone call or creating a design, you’re going to lose the efficiencies that time-tracking should bring.
When we planned the software that we use at Due, that was a vital consideration. We wanted operating it to take no more than seconds. Employees (and freelancers) should be able to start the tracking, write a label, and leave it.
When the time-tracking is easy enough to do in an instant, your staff will be less likely to see it as a chore and more likely to use it.
When you’re the boss, laying down the law is always the easy option. There’s nothing to stop you from installing time-tracking software on all of your computers and instructing your workforce to use it.
But you also want to maintain good relationships with your staff. You want them to track their time enthusiastically and accurately. You want them to feel that they’re helping themselves as well as helping you, and that the tool you’ve given them will make their job more meaningful and more lucrative. This will always depend on how you serve it.
After Frederick Winslow Taylor gave his time-tracking information to firms, they used that data to increase productivity without passing on the benefits to their workforce. That created resentment. Part of the challenge of using time-tracking software is reaping the benefits without falling into the same trap.
In the next chapter, we’ll look at what you can do with the information that your time-tracking generates.
Get More Out Of Time Tracking—What To do With Your Data
The immediate result of time-tracking will be data. If you’re a freelancer, you’ll know how long different tasks have taken you. If you’re the owner of a small business, you’ll have records of how long tasks have taken your staff members.
Data is valuable. Used wisely, the data your time-tracking software delivers can produce a range of benefits. But it has to be used carefully. There are a number of thing you can do with your time data to improve your business.
Bill Clients Accurately And Build Better Customer Relations
The easiest benefit to squeeze out of your data will be the ability to accurately charge your clients. When you’re billing by the hour, time-tracking will give you the figures you need to put in the invoice.
When you can point to the data produced by the software, there shouldn’t be any arguments about the time calculations, and clients can have no reason to complain. You might wonder why it takes so long to design a logo or write a script, and you might worry that that time makes your business uncompetitive. But clients should have little difficulty understanding why they need to pay the amount you’ve demanded.
This often leads to better customer relationships. When everything is transparent, the invoices are detailed and clients know that they’re not being taken for a ride, trust grows. The client knows they can either hire you again at the price they’ve paid or look for a cheaper option.
But at the very least, they’ll know you’re honest and that trust always goes a long way towards retaining a client. They won’t have that same degree of faith in any new company or service provider they hire.
Make Better Offers
The accurate and transparent invoicing will come at the end of the project, and help smooth the way to the next one. Time data will also enable you to win more projects.
One of the biggest challenges for any service business is estimating the amount of time that a task will take. Experience gives a good idea of how long work can take, and both freelancers and small businesses base their quotes on those time estimates.
Despite that experience though, estimates are rarely completely accurate. Each project is unique, circumstances change and clients have a habit of requesting changes (or making them).
Whenever a service provider has to deliver a quote for a project there’s always an element of doubt about whether they requested the right amount. Could they have completed the work faster and offered a more competitive price? Or will they be struggling to get the work done in the time for which they’re charging, resulting in lower quality work or a cut in the rate?
Being able to pull up real data for similar projects will make those estimates much easier to calculate. You’ll be able to take an average from them to create a quote that you can always have confidence in.
If the work takes longer than you expected, you can assume that the next project won at the same price will take less time and cover the cost. If you lose a job because your bid was too high, you’ll know that you couldn’t have bid any lower without cutting into your rate.
Tracking the time you spend on tasks turns your estimates into scientific assessments, increases the chances of winning bids… and makes you feel better about losing them.
Create A Smoother Schedule
Every freelancer knows the feeling of “feast or famine.” One month, their schedule is overflowing and they’re wondering whether they should outsource some of their work. The next month they have big holes in their calendar, and they need to start brushing up their portfolio and pitching for new clients.
That weak planning has a number of reasons. Schedules overflow when clients demand work immediately and freelancers or businesses find it hard to say “no.”
It’s always hard to turn down a client with money on offer. But much of the reason for those activity rollercoasters is the difficulty of creating a schedule.
If you could always tell exactly how long a particular project would last, it would be easier to spread your jobs and schedules around the calendar, so that one project leads smoothly into the next.
You might still get some ups and downs but you’d be less likely to spend weeks burning the midnight oil and working through weekends before spending weeks stretching simple designs or one-off blog posts into day-long projects to fill the hours.
Just as time-tracking will tell you how much you should charge clients for new projects, so it will also tell you how much time you need to set aside for those projects.
You’ll have a calendar that’s much more accurate, much easier to manage and contains fewer missed deadlines.
Grow Your Business At Exactly The Right Speed
One result of that better schedule might be the realization that you need help. When you can see work disappearing down the months and know that there’s plenty more that you could take on if only you had the time to chase it down — not taking on help means leaving money on the table.
Using time-tracking to create an accurate schedule for yourself shows you exactly how much help you need and when you need to hire it.
Whether you want to take on a freelancer to help with the overflow or hire a full-time worker to do the hands-on stuff while you focus on the marketing and business-building doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that time-tracking will give you the clarity to make the right decisions at exactly the right time. You’ll be able to grow your business at the right pace, with confidence, and with the knowledge that you’ll have just enough work to give your new employee to justify the hire.
When you’re hoping to grow your business, time-tracking lets you see where you’ve been and how fast it’s taken you to get there so that you can plan the road ahead.
This is the big prize available from time-tracking: you get to see where your most valuable asset (time) is being wasted and you’ll get to develop plans to make more from the time you have available.
Finding out where the time goes is going to happen in four different areas.
The first place to look: is with your staff—or with you, yourself, if you’re a freelancer.
Time-tracking will reveal if you or a staff member is taking longer than you think over particular projects, and longer than the project should take.
If you find that a member of your staff has been slacking, you can bring them in for a talk, explain how long each task they’ve been set should be taking, and show them how to speed up.
If they can’t work as fast as other team members, then you may have a good reason to replace them. A decision that’s always tough becomes much easier when you have solid numbers that you can refer to.
When you can see that you’ve been taking too long over some tasks, you can have a word with yourself. Every time you sit down to work on a similar project, you can start a clock and race yourself to your deadline. Discipline yourself to work at the right speed and you’ll start to make a permanent improvement to your productivity.
The second place to look: is at your projects. Every business takes in projects of different size.
A graphic design firm might be creating a logo one day then planning a complete website the next. The variety makes the work more interesting but it also means that some hours are worth more than others.
When you look at your time-tracking software you might find that those low-paying projects are crowding out other work that would pay you much more. Time-tracking won’t just help you to sort out which employees are bringing in the most revenue but also what work those employees actually are doing — which may be that harder, more time consuming task — or you’ll find what this employee actually should be doing.
You can also look at your work methods. This might include anything from how you arrange your workspace to the time you sit at the desk. Time-tracking might tell you whether you’re more productive in the morning or in the afternoon, with music playing in the background or in silence, while taking short breaks or by working in sprints.
You may want to rearrange your desk, buy better headphones, spend less time working in cafés and more time in co-working spaces or find a way to get to either of them faster.
You can experiment with each of these different approaches and conditions, using time-tracking to find your own optimal work conditions.
You have to be careful when you do this. The act of measuring something can change the very nature of that thing. You may well find that your optimal work condition is when you’re tracking your time.
Knowing that you’re being watched might well be all you need to stay focused. If that’s the case, just get used to keeping your time-tracking permanently on.
If time-tracking completely unnerves someone — it may lower their productivity, and there may be a reason beyond what is currently known about this employee. You may wish to merely observe this employee for a time before enforcing time-tracking.
In Terry Gilliam’s 1977 movie, Jabberwocky, a young peasant visits a blacksmiths where a small army of workers labor to build suits of armor. The place is a mess. One employee tries to pour water over a suit that hangs above his head. Another spends his day doing nothing but turning a giant wheel.
As the boss argues with a customer who hasn’t received his order, the peasant sees a blacksmith passing metal rivets to another worker who hammers them into place. To reach the rivets, the blacksmith has to stretch at full length. The time it takes for him to reach the rivet, draw it back and put it in place is exactly the time it takes his colleague to lift and drop his hammer.
The peasant watches the two working. He tries to tell them that if they moved the pins closer they’d work much more efficiently. The blacksmith tells him to go away so the peasant moves the table of pins himself. The blacksmith loses his rhythm. His colleague hammers his fingers. The blacksmith jumps up in pain and knocks over a row of spears. The spears send the great wheel rolling across the factory, suits of armor fall down, and in no time at all the entire place is collapsing around everyone’s ears.
The scene is a very funny depiction of what can happen when management consultants walk into a business and try to tell people who have set ways of working what they should do. Some of the established patterns of behavior that might not be the most efficient may actually get the job done. Trying to change those patterns could well cause more damage than the improvements in efficiency the change would bring.
That’s worth bearing in mind when you’re looking at the data picked up by your time-tracking software.
In this guide, we’ve looked at the nature of time tracking. We explored the different ways in which time is measured and we took a quick stroll through the history of the different ways that businesses have attempted to know what their staff are doing and how long they’ve been doing it for.
We then examined the best ways to roll out time tracking. That’s an important concern. While it’s easy enough for any employer to tell their staff what they have to click and when they have to click it, you want your team to turn on the clock because they want to, not because you’ve told them to. You want them to feel that the benefits that time tracking delivers benefit them too.
Time-tracking often helps you or your employee to work at their best and it makes sure that their hard work is fully appreciated.
Time tracking doesn’t have to be just a way to collect data about your staff’s workplace efficiency and it doesn’t have to be only a way to produce accurate time sheets for invoicing clients. It can also be a way for your team to monitor themselves, to improve their own work rates and to build their careers.
Time tracking should benefit everyone.
A huge benefit of time-tracking seems to be with the freelancers and the owners of small businesses. They’ll be able to extract the data from the time tracking software and use it to improve the way they work. They’ll be able to make better pitches to clients, build better schedules, save time lost on paperwork and grow their business at exactly the right speed.
Building a successful business of any size means doing the right thing at the right time.
The right thing at the right time starts with knowing exactly what you’re doing with the time you have. Only then can you make the right changes that will improve your business.